I knew every inch of the walk from the front door to the post office. I walked it every day, sometimes twice a day, hoping to get something from someone.
6 steps from the door to the sidewalk, turn left. 7 more steps and I was at the edge of our property. I never knew why but the sidewalk on our side of the line was in much better shape than our neighbors, though both were obviously decades ancient.
Stepping onto the broken, discolored chunks of concrete was like stepping into a fairy tale. Our neighbor, Mr. Hrdlicka? Mr. Slepitka? I don't think I was ever told his name. He had great huge evergreen trees of some kind growing on either side of the sidewalk. They too seemed ancient, their branches entwining, hanging low, their brown needles making a carpet that covered the broken sidewalk. It always seemed darker, colder, under those threes.
12 steps and I was out from under the canopy and at the corner. Years later, after I had graduated and moved on, these roads would be paved, but now they were dirt and gravel. There were only a few stop signs in town, all of them on the street that ran in front of the school.The next block over from where I was. On a hot day I would pray that a car wouldn't come by, spewing dust behind it that stuck to your skin in the humid Nebraska summers.
7 steps across the dirt road. The next block didn't have many trees. There was no sidewalk in front of the house on the corner, but a well worn path in the grass. It was about two inches lower than the grass on either side and was always dry and hard, even in the rain.
I never learned the names of the people that lived in all these homes, but in the comings and goings of life I couldn't help but learn some of them. The next house, 15 steps from the corner, was where one of my classmates lived. Everyone called him Bert, though teachers and parents called him Rob. Like most kids that I went to school with, I considered him a friend, though we were never really friendly. There were a bunch of us like that, in every class together since kindergarten, you can't help but think of each other as friends even though you had nothing in common.
17 steps past Bert's house, 15 more steps to the corner, right next to the stop sign. Besides Main street this was the only paved street in town. Three blocks to the right was the school. sometimes I walked this way when I was trying to meet up with my latest crush, but usually I went up the last street closest to my house, entering the school from the back. This street had only been paved in the last year or so. Which was great when it rained because they didn't put in any kind of drainage system and the street turned into a 4 block long swimming hole.
17 steps across school street and I was in a jungle. The home owner on this block grew a variety of great green leafy trees. In the fall they dropped a variety of nuts on your head, small brown acorns, round green walnuts, and some kind of half moon shaped pod that hurt like hell when it hit you on the head. Often on this block you'd be accosted by squirrel who were afraid you were there to steal the great treasure they had found.
At the end of the block was another dirt road. 12 steps across and I was in the heart of the town. This side of the block was the park, to my left, the other side was an row of closely set buildings, a couple with tall fronts left over from almost a century ago. Housing the post office, cafe, grocery store, Joe's Place (a bar), and the one room city hall, this was Main street.
When I was younger, I'd often stop to play at the part before getting the mail, but now I was too old for the rusty swings and the shiny metal slide that burned your skin in the summer sun. 20 steps past the park, 12 more to the corner, 7 to the door.
All post offices everywhere have the same smell. Large or small, they all smell exactly the same way. Everyone I have visited since I left this small town has always reminded me of the one back home, because of the aroma that met me when I entered.
The mail box room was very small. Only about 6 feet wide and 15 feet deep. 150 metal doors were on the right, all exactly the same small square size. Taking the key out of my pocket I open our box. I never really had to check to see if I had the right one, it's location was so firmly branded into my mind it was a habit, like walking or chewing.
Would today bring something from outside our little town? I had a couple of pen pals from church camp last summer. They, like me, were in their own little towns, with their own walks to the post office. All of us, making the walk every day hoping to hear from each other. Would today bring a glimpse from their world into mine?
Or would I have to make the 172 steps home, lonelier than I was before?